MacLean’s Triune Brain (Three-Brain) Theory

By Dian Hasan | February 23, 2010

In our complex globalized world, the art of brand-building and brand communication is increasingly becoming as diverse (and challenging) as the many different international markets where a brand is available.

The key to successfully conquer different markets and to be “On Code“, is to ensure that the brand experience, brand message and brand values are aligned (again, to be “On Code” is essential) according to the culture of the targeted audience.

Aside from culture, it is equally important to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain functions in deciphering meanings, building values, and making buying decisions. This is how the brain connects with brands, the neuroscience behind it! One theory that perfectly captures this is Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain (Three Brain) Theory, where the brain is divided into three distinctively different parts and how information is processed, meanings digested, and understanding built. Here’s a look at this theory and how it relates to brand building.

Paul MacLean (1913 – 2007), the former director of the Laboratory of the Brain and Behavior at the United StatesNational Institute of Mental Health, developed a model of the brain based on its evolutionary development. It is referred to as the “triune brain theory” because MacLean suggests that the human brain is actually three brains in one. Each of the layers or “brains” were established successively in response to evolutionary need. The three layers are the reptilian system, or R-complex, The Limbic System, and The Neocortex. Each layer is geared toward separate functions of the brain, but all three layers interact substantially.

The Reptilian Complex

The R-complex consists of the brain stem and the cerebellum. Its purpose is closely related to actual physical survival and maintenance of the body. The cerebellum orchestrates movement. Digestion, reproduction, circulation, breathing, and the execution of the “fight or flight” response in stress are all housed in the brain stem. Because the reptilian brain is primarily concerned with physical survival, the behaviors it governs have much in common with the survival behaviors of animals. It plays a crucial role in establishing home territory, reproduction and social dominance. The overriding characteristics of R-complex behaviors are that they are automatic, have a ritualistic quality, and are highly resistant to change.

The Limbic System

The Limbic System, the second brain to evolve, houses the primary centers of emotion. It includes the amygdala, which is important in the association of events with emotion, and the hippocampus, which is active in converting information into long term memory and in memory recall. Repeated use of specialized nerve networks in the hippocampus enhances memory storage, so this structure is involved in learning from both commonplace experiences and deliberate study. However, it is not necessary to retain every bit of information one learns. Some neuroscientists believe that the hippocampus helps select which memories are stored, perhaps by attaching an “emotion marker” to some events so that they are likely to be recalled. The amygdala comes into play in situations that arouse feelings such as fear, pity, anger, or outrage. Damage to the amygdala can abolish an emotion-charged memory. Because the limbic system links emotions with behavior, it serves to inhibit the R-complex and its preference for ritualistic, habitual ways of responding.

The Limbic System is also involved in primal activities related to food and sex, particularly having to do with our sense of smell and bonding needs, and activities related to expression and mediation of emotions and feelings, including emotions linked to attachment. These protective, loving feelings become increasingly complex as the limbic system and the neocortex link up.

The Neocortex

Also called the Cerebral Cortex, the Neocortex constitutes five-sixths of the human brain. It is the outer portion of our brain, and is approximately the size of a newspaper page crumpled together. The Neocortex makes language, including speech and writing possible. It renders logical and formal operational thinking possible and allows us to see ahead and plan for the future. The Neocortex also contains two specialized regions, one dedicated to voluntary movement and one to processing sensory information.

Source: Wikipedia

About dianhasan

Brand Storyteller, Travel Writer, Speaker, Creative Writer & Thinker - avid observer of randomness in everyday life - Sustainable Business, Eco Matters, Sustainable Urban Issues, Architecture, Heritage Conservation, Innovation & Brand-Strategy, Cross-Cultural Communications, Travel, Tourism & Lifestyle.
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7 Responses to MacLean’s Triune Brain (Three-Brain) Theory

  1. Pingback: Irrational Behavior as Explained via MacLean’s Triune (Three-Brain) Theory « IDEAS INSPIRING INNOVATION

  2. Pingback: Brand-Building, it’s all about finding your Reptilian « IDEAS INSPIRING INNOVATION

  3. Pingback: Marlboro Friday ~ a crucial lesson on the value of branding as key strategy – not afterthought – in business « IDEAS INSPIRING INNOVATION

  4. JohnK says:

    If anybody’s interested we’ve an article on educational implications of triune brain, sent on request:

  5. Pingback: When cars end up in living rooms: Symbolic Meaning in Brand-Building | IDEAS INSPIRING INNOVATION

  6. Pingback: Brand builders and their Craft | Tapping into the Reptilian Brain for Brand Meanings | IDEAS INSPIRING INNOVATION

  7. Pingback: Lighter side of branding | Sophie, Victoria, and… Stella? | IDEAS INSPIRING INNOVATION

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